Brendan Carroll

Brendan Carroll was interviewed by Assistant Editor, Troy Dixon, in January 2004 specially for this website. The interview was originally posted in August 2004.
Brief Biographical Information
Brendan G. Carroll was born in Southport, Lancashire, into a musical family. His great-grandfather was the 19th century composer Alfred Harborough 1852-1932), a pupil of Henselt and a contemporary of Parry and Stanford, who was later organist and Master of the Music to the Duke of Norfolk at Arundel.
Brendan began playing piano very early, and studied both the piano and organ. A music & arts graduate, he is an experienced author, journalist, broadcaster, lecturer, musicologist, and has been a marketing consultant to the Arts since 1980. He has combined this with a career in arts journalism writing for, among other distinguished publications, The Musical Times, Opera Now, Classical Music, Gramophone, Opera News (in New York), and Die Musikforschung.
Brendan Carroll has also enjoyed a third career as a specialist advisor to the recording industry and has been a consultant to many labels on a variety of projects – many involving the music of Korngold – including Decca, Chandos, Nimbus, Delos, CPO, ASV, Carlton, Hyperion, Koch, Harmonia Mundi, Deutsche Grammophon and Calig.
In 1997 he published The Last Prodigy (issued by Amadeus Press in America and widely acclaimed internationally in the press), a major biography of the Austrian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, on whom he is the world authority.
Brendan Carroll is President of the International Korngold Society (which he co-founded in 1983 with publisher Konrad Hopkins), and has been responsible for arranging the premieres of many of Korngold’s major works in the UK since 1975.In 2001 he collaborated with producer/director Barrie Gavin on the production of BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, a major television documentary on Korngold for German Television now being shown throughout the world and recently issued on DVD with great critical success.

Q: When you first started your research on Erich Korngold 30 years ago, did you ever think you would become one of, if not the “leading scholar” that you are today?
Brendan Carroll (BC): Never in a million years! In fact if anyone had told me I would still be working on Korngold and his revival some 30 years on, I would have never believed them!

Q: How were you first exposed to Korngold’s music?
As it says in the foreword to my book, I first encountered Korngold’s music via TV screenings of the Errol Flynn swashbuckers in my childhood. I did not know his name then but loved the music so much, I taped the films (sound only – no video then) direct from the TV! I first saw his name when I spotted the first RCA LP The Sea Hawk in a shop window. The full story is all in my book. Please read it!

Q: Your book’s Preface says you owe your love of music and of Hollywood’s Golden Age to your mother, presumably from an early age. Did your love of Korngold’s music in particular affect your decision to study music at University? Did it influence the direction of your University studies, and if so, in what ways?
No. I was a very musical child and my Mother’s family were musical. My great Grandfather was a composer and pianist and I exhibited musical talent from about age 3 when I started playing the piano (I was no Erich Wolfgang Korngold, I hasten to add!). So my career path in music was fixed long before I started to become seriously interested in Korngold. In my studies however, I can certainly say that Korngold had a profound influence on my specialisation. When I began to unravel his early career, I began to realise that there was a whole branch of early 20th century music that was largely ignored by teaching at that time. (I was a student 30+ years ago remember) and figures such as Zemlinsky, Schreker, Toch, Marx, von Schillings, Bittner – were totally unknown. I eventually came to understand that if one does not know these composers ~ and the sheer diversity and richness of the musical language of the period1890-1940, one cannot really appreciate where the Second Viennese School fits. I never appreciated Berg as a young man. Now, I love his music and can ‘hear’ all of the different strains or influences that cross-fertilise these extraordinary composers’ works. The music of Korngold and Berg has more in common than the average music lover might think. Of course, most critics would disagree with me.

Q: You must be a “formidable” pianist having begun at age 3 – have you ever thought about releasing a CD of your own interpretations of some of Korngold’s piano music? That would be an interesting advertising campaign…
I would say that I am a competent pianist. The piano is a ‘jealous mistress’ as my teacher once told me; neglect her at your peril! I simply do not have time for practise and it has been many years since I was able to devote time to playing. As for making a CD, I would never inflict my performances on the public when there are so many great pianists who can do so much better than I. I would prefer to encourage today’s brilliant young artists to learn this music rather than promote my own efforts, but thank you for the compliments, nevertheless.

Q: How did the notion of publishing The Last Prodigy come about?Was it always a goal of yours?
The idea of a book grew from my first research for my thesis. I realised there was so little in print on the man that something ought to be done. However it was an uphill struggle. In the 1970s, nobody wanted to know. I was very lucky that Korngold’s sons supported my project from the start. So I suppose it was a goal. I never thought it would take so long to achieve but it was certainly worth it.

Q: The thesis was to be about some aspect of Korngold and his music? Did it ever come to fruition, or did the lack of information force you to something else (so you could graduate in a realistic time frame!)?
The thesis was on Korngold’s operas and I withdrew it from circulation in 1981 because by then, I had learned so much more and realised it had many errors and deficiencies. One of my main tasks these past three decades has been the eradication of false information on Korngold ~ and I had no wish to add to it in my own work.

Q: Apart from that very first contact from George Korngold, what would you say is the most surprising thing that happened during your years of research and preparation leading up to publication of The Last Prodigy?
That is a very difficult question to answer because so many surprising things have happened to me during the 30 odd years since I wrote to George. My life has really been one big adventure. Thanks to Korngold, I got to meet some of the most remarkable people of the 20th century and even became friends with a number of them. A lot of these people were my idols – and from all of them, I learned a huge amount, gaining a rich perspective on music, cinema and world history that I otherwise would never have acquired. I travelled the world, going to places I would never have thought of visiting. I made my dreams come true. I went to Warner Brothers (long before studio tours) and explored every part of the studio lot, played Korngold’s piano, sat in the very room where the “greats” worked. Then there are the strange co-incidences ; finding a long lost cousin of Korngold’s living but 3 streets away from my house! There are more details in my book, which I don’t want to repeat here.

Q: Given your mother’s influence in your appreciation of music and of Hollywood’s Golden Age, she must be proud…perhaps a little jealous of your “big adventure”?
My mother is my biggest fan – as all mothers usually are. We share a great deal and have total empathy. She is very proud of my book and my work on behalf of Korngold and she adores his music as much as I do.

Q: As I recall, both yours and Jessica Duchen’s biographies hit the bookstores within a year of each other – did you help each other with research at all?And maybe to expand a little, what is your relationship with other “Korngold scholars” (Mr. Rachold and Ms. Duchen spring immediately to mind, but there must be others out there as well)?
I helped Jessica with her university thesis on Die tote Stadt many years ago but I had no input to her book as I recall. She was completing it at the time I was in ‘final editing’ and it would have been impossible for me to help her as well and probably be counter-productive anyway.
Jessica and I enjoy cordial relations and I see her quite often in London. Mr. Rachold is a very dear friend of mine and has been of incalculable help to me over the past 20 years, as my acknowledgements in my book hopefully show. I should add that I am always pleased when others show interest in Korngold or even publish articles and books (there are now at least four other books on Korngold – two in German, one in Japanese and most recently, one in Spanish!) . I have no wish to be the only fish in this particular pool and I welcome others’ insights into the man and his music. I am also delighted when somebody finds something new about him – or corrects something I have written. I have a nice file of errata kindly sent to me by readers of ‘The Last Prodigy’ from all over the world, which one day I hope to incorporate in a revised edition. Fingers crossed….

Q: I’ve seen the comment in several places that both Dr. Hoffmann’s and Luzi Korngold’s biographies are “wrong” – in what way are they incorrect?Could you give an example, perhaps?
Yes. Dr Hoffman’s book is often incorrect in dating events of Korngold’s life. These were minor errors which I was able to correct in my book because I traced the exact concert programmes or reviews, whereas he relied on memory – a dangerous thing. Mme Korngold also had to rely on memory because she was writing in 1959, without access to any documentation. The biggest (and oddest) mistake in her book concerns her honeymoon. She relates how she and Erich attended a performance of Die tote Stadt starring Lotte Lehmann and Richard Tauber in 1924, conducted by Georg Szell while they were on honeymoon in Berlin. Well, they married on 30th April 1924 – and yet, the last performance of Die tote Stadt in Berlin with Tauber and Lehmann was April 12th! I know, because I have the theatre bill. So, she got confused. I think they went to Berlin before they were married to see Die tote Stadt – and again, during their honeymoon (when Korngold made some recordings for the VOX company of his Op. 14 lieder). It is possible that Tauber and Szell were still in Berlin on the second trip, which would account for the mix up in recall. I corrected this in my book.

Q: For the past several years you have been working rather closely with the ASV label in releasing Korngold’s music, including many premiere recordings.How did this relationship come to be, and what prompted this particular label to work with you on this project?
By chance. I had already written some liner notes for them, and there was a definite scheme to record a Korngold Series. I was involved not only as note writer but adviser-consultant to the musicians and artists that ASV had brought in. The Linz Orchestra in particular was very keen to record “new” Korngold and I not only suggested which works but also assisted in securing scores, parts and even copies of manuscripts to enable this to be done. I am especially proud of exhuming Der Sturm in the most recent CD.

Q: Can you elaborate on that pride about this particular work’s release?There are many other manuscripts that could be restored, after all.Does it relate to the near total neglect of the work’s existence, as described in your liner notes?
I am proud of it because it is such a fine piece, and I feel sure it could and will have a life in the concert hall. Even though it is short, it is perfectly structured and totally satisfying. Moreover, there are relatively few complete orchestral works by Korngold that are unknown. It is true that there are many other manuscripts, but these are mostly songs and piano pieces. So Der Sturm was a satisfying project and particularly as George Korngold always wanted to rescue it. I was glad to make his dream come true at last.

Q: Recent years have seen an increase of releases of earlier Korngold music (Harmonia Mundi’s release of “12 Songs” from 1911; Nimbus Records’ “Was der Wald Erzaehlt” from 1909; “Der Sturm” mentioned above) – would you express your views on this trend?I assume you’re overjoyed with the re-awakening interest in Korngold’s music?
Well, I don’t wish to play down your belief that these are part of a trend, but I must confess that all of the examples you cite came about because I was involved in the background of these projects and suggested and pushed for them to happen. 

I am always trying to bring ‘new’ Korngold to the public. I don’t want there to be just a stream of discs featuring the same pieces over and over. From a marketing point of view, it is always better to have a ‘World Premiere’ recording alongside familiar repertoire. It helps sell the disc. In the case of the 1911 Lieder, I was very happy because Korngold is not often regarded as a song composer and I have always thought he was one of the finest exponents of that great German Lied tradition that stretches from Schubert onwards. ‘Liebesbriefchen’ or ‘Sommer’ deserve to be on every recital programme, alongside the songs of Strauss, Mahler and Marx. A CD like the Harmonia Mundi will help young singers realise this largely ignored repertoire. I hope it will anyway.

Q: I understand the famous Gold cantata Korngold played for Mahler is lost – did most of the other contemporaneous manuscripts survive?Ca n we expect to hear any other premieres of early Korngold music in the near future? 

The full list of what actually survived of Korngold’s early manuscripts is in the appendices to my book. Part of the problem lies in the fact that the Nazi occupiers of Korngold’s house in Vienna had already begun to destroy his music library in 1938. GOLD was a casualty, as was the early two-piano version of ‘Schneemann’ and a number of other rare works. Sadly we shall never know what was really lost. There are a number of surviving early piano pieces and some more lieder which I am hopeful will be published in the not-too-distant future and perhaps these will be recorded. It depends on musicians and of course, the record labels.

Q: It appears that the only Opus number of Korngold’s not represented on disc is Op. 36 – Die stumme Serenade – is there any forthcoming production waiting in the wings, and why hasn’t someone attacked this last remaining “hole” in the catalogue yet?

Good question. Part of the problem is that it has a rather weak and contrived book, a lot of dialogue and it is not easily available (it was never published for sale, as far as I know). Its humour also doesn’t really translate that well. However it has some of Korngold’s most delightful music (in his lighter style) and I feel that a recording may come about if some enterprising theatre decided to mount a production.We shall see. 

Q: For those who may be interested, is the Korngold Society you and Mr. Hopkins founded an organization open to general membership?Can any Korngold enthusiast join?

Dr Hopkins is in poor health and as a result, the Society as such is no longer “active” but “passive” in that it does not publish newsletters or provide the kind of material other similar societies offer to members. Membership is thus dormant and the Society is really now a repository for archival materials. Things are about to change in the next few years however because Dr Hopkins and I are in the process of transforming the Society into the Korngold Foundation. This will benefit from a bequest from Dr Hopkins in the fullness of time to provide an annual scholarship as well as a permanent home for the archive which he and I have built up over the years. When these plans are finalised, I will be making a formal announcement which – I hope – will delight admirers of Korngold everywhere. It is our aim to establish this in an appropriate place by 2007 – the 50th anniversary of Korngold’s death. Once established, I will be seeking donations and support – large and small – from everywhere to augment these efforts. I can say no more about it for the present…

Q: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, and more importantly, thank you for helping enrich our lives by unearthing (and continuing to unearth!) the life and music of this important musical figure, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and his times. 

Believe me, it has been my privilege and my pleasure to do this work. If I have enriched peoples’ lives, I am content – for Korngold has certainly enriched mine, immeasurably, and he continues to do so.I would like to conclude our discussion by saying that Korngold’s reputation and importance will undoubtedly continue to grow and that he needs constant support from those who admire him. There will come a time in the future when I am no longer able to be his advocate and I am always hoping that someone else will come along to take up the cause. Mahler once said that a composer becomes immortal if his works are still played 50 years after his death. Korngold will certainly achieve that – but he is still not performed enough in concert halls. CDs are not enough. A composer only lives through live performance. 

Some examples of the cause still to be won may surprise you; London (and the UK as a whole) still awaits a proper production of any one of his operas. Many works are hardly performed at all – e.g. the magnificent Left Hand Piano concerto.The film music is largely unpublished and unavailable. There are many more projects too numerous to list here. 

I would therefore like to suggest a little task to everyone who reads this.It is not enough to sit at home, enjoying your CD collection, watching your DVDs, reading ‘The Last Prodigy’ and waiting for the news to be published on this website. Every successful Korngold project comes as a result of prodding, cajoling, suggesting – usually from a dedicated enthusiast who wanted to do something. For example, the recent superb piano anthology on NIMBUS came about only because Martin Jones wanted to record Korngold. Otherwise, it would never have been done. Likewise the splendid CD by Alexander Frey on KOCH which is part of a long series of discs that promises to be even more comprehensive than Mr Jones’ anthology. 

Every one can contribute. If every person who reads this were to write to their local music association, philharmonic society, radio stationor to a CD company and suggest they play or perform Korngold, it would achieve incredible results for his music. Send requests to your radio stations (they all have programmes that take requsts) , choose a work and suggest it for performance to your local symphony orchestra or suggest a piece to your favourite artist. It may be a premiere in your country. Do some research first to find out. But do something!

It is only through this kind of support that Korngold and his music will become wider known. And that is surely what all of us wants! OK, that’s my lecture over with.

It has been a pleasure talking with you Troy. Thank you.

Originally posted August 2004 — reformatted March 2012